All That Jazz
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All That Jazz
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All That Jazz
Avant garde music provides escape from tough times
During the height of the Great Depression, jazz was considered a little avant garde, a little dangerous and was flourishing in Montreal.
Myron Sutton was an alto sax player who came to Montreal during the 1930s to be part of the thriving  jazz music scene.
Myron Sutton was an alto sax player who came to Montreal during the 1930s to be part of the thriving jazz music scene.

Nights in Montreal were a sinful pleasure for those with money to spend. Rich Montrealers came in to the jazz clubs with their girlfriends and gave the band $50 dollars to keep playing after the bar had emptied and closed.

The city had a booming red light district with jazz hotspots like the Hollywood Club and the Terminal Club with its bare floors and pot-bellied stove.

Myron Sutton was an alto sax player and came to Montreal from Niagara Falls to be at the centre of the action.

"The Terminal Club was the kind of place where anything could happen. I saw Johnny Hodges come in there and blow his horn. I saw that puff-jaws Dizzy Gillespie come in there. Duke Ellington came in and sat behind the bar. Anybody's liable to come in there. It was just a joint, but it was a well-known joint."

Black Americans developed jazz at the turn of the century. The improvised music combined elements of ragtime, blues, spirituals, and band music. By the 1920s, jazz had migrated across the border and during the 1930s, Montreal attracted some of the jazz greats. While most North American clubs were segregated, black musicians found greater integration in Montreal clubs and other incentives to come to the city.

"You have to give the French Canadian white woman all the credit in the world," one black musician said, "because she was the nicest woman to all the black musicians. If it wasn't for the French Canadian women, all the black musicians who came from anywhere, and stayed, would have starved to death."

The 1930s saw the start of the Swing-era, a big band form of jazz. Alto sax player Myron Sutton had a swing band called the Canadian Ambassadors, the first organized black jazz band in the country. They played Connie's Inn on St. Catherine Street in Montreal for nine months in 1933 and wore custom-tailored suits.

"Our band was strictly a swing band," Sutton said. "And we just swung, that's all."

As jazz thrived in Montreal during the 1930s, a local boy honed his musical skills in quieter venues around the city. Oscar Peterson performed publicly in the family band at churches and community halls. By the end of the decade a teenage Peterson had his own radio show in Montreal and was primed to dominate the city jazz scene in the decade to come.

The jazz pianist and composer subsequently became one of Canada's most famous musicians.

Montreal's jazz legacy continues today. Each summer the city hosts the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Established in 1980, the festival is now one of the premier jazz events in the world. It attracts up to 400,000 people a year.

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